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Thread: Themed business displays and representational signs

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Themed business displays and representational signs

    This article about the growing number of themed business displays in quaint East Aurora, New York appeared in the Buffalo News on Sunday.

    Quote Originally posted by Buffalo News


    Call it a bit of whimsy in the town that toys built.

    The thematic business signs that have begun popping up around East Aurora could be considered a sampling of pop art in the midst of a quaint historic village also known for its Roycroft heritage, Fisher-Price roots and home to former U.S. President Millard Fillmore.

    Or, some worry, they could quickly become a tad too tacky in this upscale community.

    "Is our village going to look 'cool' in five years, or is it going to look like a comic book?" Village Trustee Peter Mercurio said. "Maybe we should start looking at it ... What about 50 signs, or will we look like a roadside attraction, like a waffle in South Dakota?"

    The 2.5-square-mile village of 6,700 residents is now sporting:

    -- A cream-colored coffee cup outside Main Street's Taste coffee shop.

    -- A yellow bicycle mounted to the outside bricks of a bicycle shop on Elm Street, just off Main.

    -- A red paintbrush dangling at the edge of a Main Street sign shop's roof.

    -- A life-sized statue replica of Edward W. Vidler, the 82-year-old president of East Aurora's iconic Vidler's 5&10 store, perched on the store roof, with his signature red apron and well-worn sneakers dangling over the rooftop.

    -- An oversized red toothbrush, complete with realistic white bristles, positioned downward on the roof of a dental office on the village's West End.

    With the latest of these signs, the toothbrush, arriving in May, East Aurora appears to be the only local village to experience such a spurt of such oversized representative business signs.

    Legislation weighed

    And now, village leaders wonder whether it's time to take a closer look at such signs as the village crafts design guidelines and may tweak its sign ordinance.

    "Should we attempt to throw the lasso of the sign code around these?" said Village Trustee Randy West. "It's cute, and it's quaint now. But all it's going to take is for a big martini glass to go up."

    The man behind the signs thinks they add to the village's character. And he considers them art.

    "The signs become a landmark," said Eric Zimmermann, owner of the Visual Impact Signs Shop, which has the red paintbrush in the heart of the village. "I don't think it's for everybody. I live here, too. I don't know that I'd go for four to five on a block. But from a marketing standpoint, it's a great way to advertise your business and put yourself on the map and get people talking about it."

    Zimmermann's shop made most of the representational signs and kicked off the "movement" with the 2008 build of Lake Effect Man in downtown Buffalo outside the Pearl Street Grill & Brewery. "I wouldn't say we do anything cheesy. I believe in good taste," he said.

    In business for 26 years, Zimmermann's shop also constructed a 12-foot tall carrot outside a Colden organic market and a Scottie dog in front of the Dog Bar restaurant in West Falls.

    For now, there are no special restrictions or rules for these signs in East Aurora. The village treats them as it would any other sign requiring a regular sign permit and makes sure it meets square footage requirements based on a building's size.

    "It's kind of fun just to find them as you drive around town," said LauraLee Naughton, Aurora Dental Care's public relations coordinator who brainstormed the red toothbrush that now dominates the roof of the Grey Street dental practice. "People didn't know we were a dentist office, and now they do. We do have people drive by and call because they saw the toothbrush. We're even changing our logo to a big red toothbrush."

    Don Vidler, son of Ed Vidler, said the "Vidler on the Roof" replica has been quite the hit. "We've heard nothing but positives. It's certainly drawn positive attention in a whimsical way," Don Vidler said Friday. "I think everyone views it as fun. It is a conversation piece."

    Zimmermann acknowledged that the Vidler statue -- while popular and a frequent magnet for photo opportunities -- may be a bit too Disney-like, as some have privately suggested. "Vidler on the Roof was probably a stretch," he said. "But I look at it in a positive way. It's about the individual business. I'm not trying to make it 'Disnified.' Other than Vidler, every sign has a point. It's a landmark."

    Zimmermann said he'd be upset if the village considered banning such signs. "There are horses [statues] all over town and no one seems to object," he said. "Because I'm the local sign company, I'd be viewed as the bad guy."

    Outside of the local area, the southern New Hampshire communities of Hollis and Rindge have dealt with similar representative signs.

    Just 30 miles apart from each other, both communities have taken steps to rein them in or ban them outright. In Hollis' case, such signs are banned, according to its zoning ordinance. Rindge last year placed restrictions on the size of representational signs.

    Balancing act

    In East Aurora, though, many are taking a wait-and-see approach, saying only that the situation bears close watching in a village that is fiercely protective of its character.

    "I think, like anything, there's a balancing test between aesthetics and a comfortable public realm," said Pittsford Mayor Rob Corby, an architectural consultant hired by East Aurora to craft design guidelines for the village and study its sign code. "Think of East Aurora's Main Street as the living room of East Aurora. Shade and the [overall] look are important. A good, attractive street is a balance, and a little variety provides character."

    "I know I've heard comments in support of those signs and those not," said Gary Grote, head of the Greater East Aurora Chamber of Commerce. "There used to be barber poles ... The idea is not new. If these signs are done appropriately, and in scale, they serve their purpose. I think the idea of having a toothbrush on a roof is like 'Hey, this is what we do.'"

    "People see the Trot to Knox horses and buffalos around, and think that's really cool. So why not? These signs can be cool," Grote said.

    Village Trustee Libby Weberg said the larger issue may be what the signs are physically made of, whether it's a cheap plastic or simulated wood. "I don't have an issue with the signs that are up now," Weberg said. "The ones I've seen here have been kind of a cool addition to the community. If it gets cheesy, then maybe we need to take a look at it."

    Even though the current signs are not on any historical landmark property, the head of East Aurora's Historic Preservation Commission said it would be smart to still study the issue.

    "I don't think we should ban them. I think people sort of like them," said Mark Warren, commission chairman. "But it's good public policy in a historic village to consider this carefully. How does this fit into the fabric of a historic community?"

    "Too often, you don't react to these things until they're all over the place," Warren said. "Public officials should get out in front of this."

    [img]Call it a bit of whimsy in the town that toys built.

    The thematic business signs that have begun popping up around East Aurora could be considered a sampling of pop art in the midst of a quaint historic village also known for its Roycroft heritage, Fisher-Price roots and home to former U.S. President Millard Fillmore.

    Or, some worry, they could quickly become a tad too tacky in this upscale community.

    "Is our village going to look 'cool' in five years, or is it going to look like a comic book?" Village Trustee Peter Mercurio said. "Maybe we should start looking at it ... What about 50 signs, or will we look like a roadside attraction, like a waffle in South Dakota?"

    The 2.5-square-mile village of 6,700 residents is now sporting:

    -- A cream-colored coffee cup outside Main Street's Taste coffee shop.

    -- A yellow bicycle mounted to the outside bricks of a bicycle shop on Elm Street, just off Main.

    -- A red paintbrush dangling at the edge of a Main Street sign shop's roof.

    -- A life-sized statue replica of Edward W. Vidler, the 82-year-old president of East Aurora's iconic Vidler's 5&10 store, perched on the store roof, with his signature red apron and well-worn sneakers dangling over the rooftop.

    -- An oversized red toothbrush, complete with realistic white bristles, positioned downward on the roof of a dental office on the village's West End.

    With the latest of these signs, the toothbrush, arriving in May, East Aurora appears to be the only local village to experience such a spurt of such oversized representative business signs.

    Legislation weighed

    And now, village leaders wonder whether it's time to take a closer look at such signs as the village crafts design guidelines and may tweak its sign ordinance.

    "Should we attempt to throw the lasso of the sign code around these?" said Village Trustee Randy West. "It's cute, and it's quaint now. But all it's going to take is for a big martini glass to go up."

    The man behind the signs thinks they add to the village's character. And he considers them art.

    "The signs become a landmark," said Eric Zimmermann, owner of the Visual Impact Signs Shop, which has the red paintbrush in the heart of the village. "I don't think it's for everybody. I live here, too. I don't know that I'd go for four to five on a block. But from a marketing standpoint, it's a great way to advertise your business and put yourself on the map and get people talking about it."

    Zimmermann's shop made most of the representational signs and kicked off the "movement" with the 2008 build of Lake Effect Man in downtown Buffalo outside the Pearl Street Grill & Brewery. "I wouldn't say we do anything cheesy. I believe in good taste," he said.

    In business for 26 years, Zimmermann's shop also constructed a 12-foot tall carrot outside a Colden organic market and a Scottie dog in front of the Dog Bar restaurant in West Falls.

    For now, there are no special restrictions or rules for these signs in East Aurora. The village treats them as it would any other sign requiring a regular sign permit and makes sure it meets square footage requirements based on a building's size.

    "It's kind of fun just to find them as you drive around town," said LauraLee Naughton, Aurora Dental Care's public relations coordinator who brainstormed the red toothbrush that now dominates the roof of the Grey Street dental practice. "People didn't know we were a dentist office, and now they do. We do have people drive by and call because they saw the toothbrush. We're even changing our logo to a big red toothbrush."

    Don Vidler, son of Ed Vidler, said the "Vidler on the Roof" replica has been quite the hit. "We've heard nothing but positives. It's certainly drawn positive attention in a whimsical way," Don Vidler said Friday. "I think everyone views it as fun. It is a conversation piece."

    Zimmermann acknowledged that the Vidler statue -- while popular and a frequent magnet for photo opportunities -- may be a bit too Disney-like, as some have privately suggested. "Vidler on the Roof was probably a stretch," he said. "But I look at it in a positive way. It's about the individual business. I'm not trying to make it 'Disnified.' Other than Vidler, every sign has a point. It's a landmark."

    Zimmermann said he'd be upset if the village considered banning such signs. "There are horses [statues] all over town and no one seems to object," he said. "Because I'm the local sign company, I'd be viewed as the bad guy."

    Outside of the local area, the southern New Hampshire communities of Hollis and Rindge have dealt with similar representative signs.

    Just 30 miles apart from each other, both communities have taken steps to rein them in or ban them outright. In Hollis' case, such signs are banned, according to its zoning ordinance. Rindge last year placed restrictions on the size of representational signs.

    Balancing act

    In East Aurora, though, many are taking a wait-and-see approach, saying only that the situation bears close watching in a village that is fiercely protective of its character.

    "I think, like anything, there's a balancing test between aesthetics and a comfortable public realm," said Pittsford Mayor Rob Corby, an architectural consultant hired by East Aurora to craft design guidelines for the village and study its sign code. "Think of East Aurora's Main Street as the living room of East Aurora. Shade and the [overall] look are important. A good, attractive street is a balance, and a little variety provides character."

    "I know I've heard comments in support of those signs and those not," said Gary Grote, head of the Greater East Aurora Chamber of Commerce. "There used to be barber poles ... The idea is not new. If these signs are done appropriately, and in scale, they serve their purpose. I think the idea of having a toothbrush on a roof is like 'Hey, this is what we do.'"

    "People see the Trot to Knox horses and buffalos around, and think that's really cool. So why not? These signs can be cool," Grote said.

    Village Trustee Libby Weberg said the larger issue may be what the signs are physically made of, whether it's a cheap plastic or simulated wood. "I don't have an issue with the signs that are up now," Weberg said. "The ones I've seen here have been kind of a cool addition to the community. If it gets cheesy, then maybe we need to take a look at it."

    Even though the current signs are not on any historical landmark property, the head of East Aurora's Historic Preservation Commission said it would be smart to still study the issue.

    "I don't think we should ban them. I think people sort of like them," said Mark Warren, commission chairman. "But it's good public policy in a historic village to consider this carefully. How does this fit into the fabric of a historic community?"

    "Too often, you don't react to these things until they're all over the place," Warren said. "Public officials should get out in front of this."

    krobinson (at) buffnews.com
    (Entire article quoted, because full articles are usually archived after a number of days.)

    What do you think about themed business displays? Have they started appearing in your community? Any complaints? How are they regulated?
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  2. #2
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    I have always promoted them.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    When it comes to our regs, if the themed displays relate to the products or services rendered they're considered "signs" and have to meet our strict sign regs. In other words, if a flower shop has a decorative display of a flower it's a sign; if a doctor's office has a display of a flower it's not a sign and is just a decoration.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Wytheville, VA, store owners used thematic signs. The Big Pencil is still on the front of the office supply store, and a paint store has a tipped, dripping paint can attached to the front.

    http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/1369

    The pencil gets all the publicity.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Queen B's avatar
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    I understand the whole sign issue. Whether it is a toothbrush or a big bull. I could understand the concern. I do believe that it attracks attention. Personally I think it would be cool.
    I like those towns that have mermaids, or buffalo all painted different. Those are not really signs but decoration.
    Could you just create an oversight committee to look at applicaitons for these and see if they are tasteful?
    The guy that is making them is local, you hate to mess with his business.
    It is all a matter of perspective!!!

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Tobinn's avatar
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    My community generally doesn't allow them - we call them 3-dimensional signs. Personally, I don't mind them if they are proportional to the space in which they are located (subjective - I know).

    Generally speaking, I would classify anything designed to attract attention to a business as a sign. My community refines that thought by including some language along the lines of that the object has to be related to the business to be considered a sign. An ice cream shop with a big ice cream cone - sign. Lawyer office with an ice cream cone - sculpture.

    It's a fine line between sculpture and sign, for sure.The question was brought up once, many years ago, about what if a landscaper or landscape architect planted trees in front of his building - wouldn't they count as signage? It was brought up as a discussion point not to skewer anybody. In that case, it was quickly pointed out that landscaping, including trees, are a requirement, so that was that.
    At times like this, you have to ask yourself, "WWJDD?"
    (What Would Jimmy Durante Do?)

  7. #7
    Cyburbian cng's avatar
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    I would treat these as case-by-case basis, with considerations for aesthetics, quality of materials, any safety hazards? Perhaps let these go through a minor use permit process, with necessary findings, such as... does it meet the city's design intent, or is it in character with the neighborhood (or at least, contribute to the character)... etc.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    As with everything, context matters most.

    Signs always have the potential to create visual pollution, so I'm completely in favor of establishing very specific design standards for every area.

    More often than not, the outlandish signs and "California Crazy" programmatic architecture are designed to be readable by passing motorists on a highway, so, in some T2 zones where visual resources would not be compromised by these elements, they do work.

    In more urban areas, such elements should probably be restricted wholesale and/or granted variances on an individual basis, unless, of course, the district in question is subject to a larger design initiative that makes the consistent use of pop. art and oversized signs an integral part of the fabric of a particular street.

  9. #9
    Without signature advertising associated with shops, the branding would not be as influential.

    Consider examples like McDonalds with the 'golden arches', Hard Rock Cafe with the huge 'electric guitar' and other large retailers. These types of signage are usually appropriate, although once you start approving inappropriate signs they will impact on amenity.

    Overall, I believe we should be tolerant for branding and there should be proper planning policies in place to use in the assessment of such signs.

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